Saturday, 16 May 2015

Myths & Reality #3

Back with another "Myths & Reality" post, this time I am going to be looking at the a pet hate for many self proclaimed 'urbanist' and that is the cul-de-sac.

Now I say self proclaimed as many of these folk have no formal qualifications related to urban planning but still feel they are they authority to tell others how the city should be. I'll admit that I'm not an urban planner either, however I do have many years of experience of designing transport infrastructure.

So back to today's myth:


"Cul-de-sac's promote auto-dependency and make walking and cycling non-viable options of transport"


The background to this myth is that cul-de-sac's happens to appear in many auto-dependant suburban subdivisions that have been built in many places all over the world and so by coexistence have been accredited with the poor planning behind the subdivision as a whole.

The real issue here is that we have gone through a period of time where cities have grown under strict zoning laws that have prevented mixed use developments and have focused on building large swaths of residential land which is completely disconnected from commercial, industrial and municipal area and hence resulting in long journeys.

The Reality:

Although the cul-de-sac is accredited with promoting auto-mobile use, obesity and the decline of walking and cycling the reality is it does the complete opposite.

In the following image you can see the standard grid layout, what you will note is that it is rather dense and efficient being able to serve a large number of properties with a minimal number of roads.

The downside of this layout however is that you will get large amounts of traffic heading along every road. Due to every road being busy there will be significant disruption at every intersection as there will be no primary movement to take priority. There are no benefits from using one mode in comparison to another when you are looking at the distance needed to be travelled, you also wont find some routes that are more suited for pedestrians and cyclists and other more suited for cars and trucks.

The Grid - Hamilton
Looking at the more modern suburban layout I have the following image which is from an area of Hamilton developed in the 70s & 80s.

What you will notice here is that the road network has changed so that we now have semi-direct main roads and then various local roads that comprise of loops or cul-de-sac's. What this does is funnel the traffic onto the larger main roads leaving the local ones for the few people who live on them as opposed to the grid that had everyone driving along every road. So in the modern case the arterial road will likely have more traffic than any individual road in the grid layout, the majority of roads will actually have less traffic. In the case of the cul-de-sac it will have such a low amount of traffic you could happily let your kids learn to ride a bike out on the road when you wouldn't dream of doing such a thing on a grid road network.

The other benefit we have is that these developments tend to be focused around a community shopping centre or park, and when you look at the road network you will find the distance you need to walk or cycle to these places is significantly less than the distance you would need to drive due to various short-cuts being provided. In some cases you may only need to walk about 500m to get to the shops, whereas if you drove it could be as much as 2km. This also helps when it comes to running public transport services as the various short cuts give pedestrians easy access to the main road where the service would be running.

70s & 80s - Hamilton


So when you compare the two different layouts we find the following:

  • Every road is busy
  • Travel distance the same for all modes of transport
  • Busy main roads
  • Quiet side streets
  • Short journeys when walking or cycling
  • Driving not effective for short drips

Monday, 13 April 2015

Cycling Auckland

The other day I saw another post which showed the cycling provision in Auckland.

The post provided a couple of pictures showing roads on one side and dedicated cycling facilities on the other.

Cycling vs Cars - TransportBlog
So with this image the following claim was made.

"Its no wonder that only 1% of commuters are cycling to work in Auckland if less than 1% of our road have safe cycling infrastructure"

What we have here is another case of Myth & Reality where we are told that 99% of streets aren't safe for cyclists. The reality is that the vast majority of roads in Auckland are quiet residential side streets brought about by the sprawled non-grid nature of the city. If you actually created a plan of all the quite and safe roads for cyclists in the city, and then included the various parks, off-road cycleways and pedestrian plazas that cyclists freely use you will find cyclists actually have a larger and more connected network than what cars do and so the image above is not only misleading but straight out wrong.

The following image shows the school of thought that went into making the above image.

Average Auckland Road
So seeing what the streets are like in Auckland, what are they like in Copenhagen where they get 20-30% of people cycling.

Copenhagen St
Well looking at that typical Copenhagen side street the carriageway is narrower and therefore needs to be one way, there is no berm but there is a narrow concrete footpath between the parked cars and the edge of the road reserve that I believe cyclists also use. In all cases the Copenhagen St seems less safe for cyclists with one exception, that being that there are no driveways. If the road above had driveways on it with the expectation that cyclists bike right next to the boundary I would say the road above was downright dangerous.

To that extent I suspect there are two big reasons why cycling is so popular in Copenhagen. One reason will be that Copenhagen is near totally flat and therefore its very easy to make the 5km average trip, the next reason will be that driving in Copenhagen isn't really much of an option. As you can see in the image, in Copenhagen you are pretty much required to park on the street both at home and at your destination, given the various one way streets and that many are closed off to everyone except for residents driving would be both slow and inconvenient and vehicle damage would be a common occurrence.

Sunday, 5 April 2015

Myths & Reality #2

Today we have Part II of the "Myths @ Reality" series

You can locate Part I here.

For today we are going to look at what is quite possibly the most popular anti-road argument being.

"Building Roads Doesn't Reduce Congestion"

This one comes in multiple forms but the general idea is that when you build a new road or widen an existing road the reduction in congestion is only temporary and you quickly end up back where you were before. This implies that the work done to improve the road was a waste of time as congestion has not reduced and therefore there has been no benefit.


Like all myths and legends there is actual an element of truth to this claim; It is true that when you add more capacity to something that has unreleased demand that usage will go up, but the conclusions that there has been no benefit is completely misplaced.

In a previous post I elaborated on what congestion is and based on what was discussed there we can expect that when we upgrade a busy road to have more capacity more people will come start using that road.

What about Public Transport:

Although I have started off mentioning roads this same induced demand effect also effects Public Transport (PT), in fact you could argue that one of the main driving factors of PT usage is the inadequacy of capacity in other modes. For example, since the extensive and disruptive roadworks have been occurring on the Northwest Motorway there has been a notable uptake in rail usage on the western line.

However if you look at PT in isolation; If you had a given bus route that's operating one bus every 15mins, and each of these buses tends to be approaching its limits in terms of capacity you will find some potential users are being turned away. To increase the capacity you can start running buses every 10mins which will make life more comfortable for the existing users until the customers who were previously being turned away come back making the buses just as busy as before.

PT supporters will claim that it is cheaper to increase the capacity on PT routes as you have already done the hard part of building the road, however the issue here is that the costs of running a bus, rail or ferry service is directly related to the capacity you are operating.

The Myth and the Reality:

To test this claim, that when you build a new road you simply attract more users and leave things just as congested as before, we are going to look at the SH18 Upper Harbour Motorway here in Auckland.

This section of motorway was built during the mid to late 2000's and bypasses Hobsonville Road and Upper Harbour Drive. The way this road bypasses the old State Highway is actually very similar to when the Southern Motorway was built between 1950 and 1970 and how it bypassed Great South Road.

So this section of motorway was built in two sections:

1) Hobsonville Section - Bypassing Hobsonville Road 
2) Greenhithe Section - Bypassing Upper harbour Drive

Hobsonville Section:

Hobsonville Road 2010 = 37,000 vpd
Hobsonville Road 2014 = 6,700 vpd
SH18 Motorway 2014 = 35,000 vpd

Greenhithe Section:

Upper Harbvour Drive 2006 = 31,000 vpd
Upper Harbvour Drive 2012 = 4,500 vpd
SH18 Motorway 2014 = 43,700 vpd

So as you can see from the numbers above there has been a significant reduction, >80%, in traffic on the existing route. For those of you that are not familiar with this section of road, the existing road alignment was a two-lane two-way road which that was at its absolute limits of capacity presenting a hazardous environment for cyclists and locals and a very low Level of Service (LoS) for all users.

Biking along this road now is both quiet and pleasant with there being very few cars, nice views and an open environment.

Upper Harbour Drive - Google Maps

Here Comes the Induced Demand:

So the above Upper Harbour Drive section has had 8 years for the induced demand to come and fill up the released capacity, however it seems here we are with 85% traffic less traffic than before. The motorway meanwhile as been growing as can be expected due to the demand that was being held back by the existing route that was at capacity, this will also be driven by cross harbour traffic which is unable to cross the main harbour bridge which is also at capacity.

2010 = 31,100
2011 = 33,700 +8.3%
2012 = 38,900 +15.4%
2013 = 40,900 +5.1%
2014 = 43.700 +6.8%

So yes we can see that motorway is attracting more traffic, but what about the existing roads that have had their traffic flows reduced by over 80%. Well if Auckland stopped changing, the city stopped growing and new business stopped establishing quite possibly these traffic volumes would stay down, however this is not the case.

One of the reasons for building the new motorway through this section was that the existing roads were at capacity and therefore development was on hold. Now that all this new capacity has been opened up the area can now handle more people and business.

The planned growth is shown in the following image of the Northern Strategic Growth Area (NorSGA).



In terms of the short term, ie 5 years we can safely say this myth is busted, however one issue we have is that the people who make this claim never actually quantify any of their claims. If their talking about 20-50 year time frames I guess they are correct in that any arterial roads we built in a growing city have a good chance of getting congested, but it makes you wonder what they are arguing against.

Are they arguing against roads or are they arguing against growth?

In most cases the people who make this claim live in large metropolitans and their greatest joys come as by-products of large number of people and the concentrations of wealth found in a growing city yet it seems they don't appreciate that this growth comes with increased travel and therefore congestion for all modes of transport.

Friday, 13 March 2015

Myths & Reality #1

I'm going to start a little series on "Myths & Reality"

It's quite common to see these from a pro-PT anti-road point of view but I'm going to try and make this series cover both sides.

So to start things off here is Number 1.

"Roads are Designed to Eliminate Peak Hour Congestion and are Empty for the Rest of the Day"

This is a common one from the anti-road brigade and is generally used as an argument against road improvements and motorways as it is claimed they are significantly under utilised for most of the time.

The reality is we can't afford to design roads to eliminate the peak hour traffic congestion, what road designers do is design roads to "manage" peak hour congestion. This may very well mean that the average speed is reduced from 100km/h down to 70km/h but the aim is to keep traffic flowing smoothly and safely.

It is the inter-peak hours that we try and keep traffic flowing at optimal conditions.

The following photo shows the Northern Motorway on a Saturday afternoon. You can see here that there are quite a few cars and if it were a video you would note the traffic was flowing smoothly. It is however in a bit of a fragile state in that one crash could cause some real issues, and when you have 160,000 vehicles a day driving along a given section of road the chance of there being is crash is quite high. Given there are wide shoulders here the traffic impacts of a minor crash would be much less than what we have been seeing on the North-Western Motorway (SH1) where a single crash would bring this level of traffic to a stand still.

Northern Motorway (SH1) Weekend Traffic

The next photo shows the South-Eastern Motorway (SH20) on a Sunday afternoon. You can see here that the road is rather quiet and flowing completely smoothly. A minor crash here would be of little consequence in terms of the of traffic flows. This section of road gets about 70,000 vehicles a day and potentially you could question as to why it was recently upgraded from 2-lanes each way to 3-lanes each way. The simple answer to that is forward planning as in 2017 the Waterview Tunnel is expected to open which will result in another 60,000 vehicles driving this route every day.

South-Western Motorway (SH20) Weekend Traffic
So what does any of this have to do with designing roads to handle peak hour congestion?

Well basically these photos are showing the motorway operating in near optimal conditions. The Northern Motorway is a little too close to capacity and the South-Western is a quite a bit under.

When it comes to peak hour when there is two or three times more traffic however, the northern motorway will be in stop start condition and the south-western will be close to flow breakdown. In both cases one minor crash would result in significant delays.

Monday, 2 March 2015

Fixing Auckland's Transport - The "Essential" Transport Network

As many of you will be aware, Auckland is the the middle of sorting out it's 10 year budget and as part of this they are trying to encourage the people of Auckland to take a bold step and pay a little better so that we can start to improve transport in Auckland.

Being the councils transport body, Auckland Transport (AT) has a fair idea of what Auckland transport issues are and they also have a good idea as to how the city is going to grow in the future and hence what new transport issues arise.

This is why we are presented with two separate transport plans as follows.

  • Basic Transport Network @ $6.9 billion
  • Advanced Transport Programme @ $10.3 billion

Although AT and the Auckland Council have been working away on these plans for some time, the anti-road brigade over at GenerationZero have noted that some improvements to the road network have been proposed and so the next campaign has started to stop improving Auckland's road transport in the name of the "Essential Transport Budget" (ETB).

As an overview, the ETB is the Basic Transport Network with a few key road upgrades being removed, they then and in a bunch of new bus/rail interchanges which are all part of the new bus network. It also includes about $100 million for improved walking and cycling.


Based on the ETB Report, the Basic Transport Network will result in "serious delays to major transport projects", but other than that they don't identify any issues and are not at all concerned with increasing congestion or allowing Auckland to grow.

The ETB is said to "priorities the desired step change in transport choice in Auckland" which I assume means making the roads so congested people have little choice but the take a train.

The rational is that apparently for the past 50 years Auckland has invested in nothing but motorways. However if you read through my Auckland's Transport History series you will note that Auckland actually has a long history of investing in nothing. It was back in the 50 & 60's that the New Zealand government built some rural expressways outside of Auckland, the only real urban motorways that were built in Auckland were again built by the government with that being the CMJ which was built very slowly over a 40 year period. Most of the urban motorways you know of today are due to Auckland growing and engulfing the rural expressways.

In terms of what Auckland has done for itself, it has only built residential streets and a few 4 lane arterial roads. In reality, Auckland is where it is today due to the council doing nothing but the bare minimum for the past 70 years, waiting for the government to step in and do something. It has only been in the last decade that Auckland Council has started to do something with their first steps being turning the rail network into an effect Rapid Transit Network (RTN).

The repeated trend of Auckland in the past of doing as little as possible is what has resulted in a congested and unpleasant road network. Roads that were meant to be arterial were built as residential streets meaning they had very little capacity and no space to be upgraded. This in turn made them progressively less desirable to walk or cycle along as additional space for traffic was squeezed in.

One of the repeated chants from the anti-road brigade is that traffic volumes aren't growing and more people are using PT, which although true it is due to a simple and obvious reason. If the roads are congested people are going to look for other ways to perform their trip. In addition to this, rail usage has shot up due to the bus network being revised so that existing bus users are now required to transfer to a train.

To show the level of trust you can put in their document, they make the claim that passenger volumes on the Auckland rail network have been increasing by 20% per annum. However if you view the following image you can see that this is not the case; although its very clear that rail patronage has been increasing, it actually declined sharply only 2 years ago and has generally been growing at just over 10% per annum.

Transportblog - 2015
On a similar tune, GenerationZero have made the claim that we reached peak traffic in mid 2000's and will never reach such levels again, this is despite the fact we have reached those levels again, passed them, and have been continuing to grow at around 2.5% per annum when you look places like the southern, northern, northwestern and upper harbour motorways.

Pro PT

In terms of the projects that are in the ETB, I don't actually have an issue with any of them however I don't see them as going far enough.

In true to anti-road campaigner fashion, GenerationZero has removed a number of road projects where the primary benefactors are bus users. This is similar case to a previous post I did where the blind hatred of roads can lead folks to campaigning against projects not knowing that the main benefactors are the PT users.

An example of this is the Lincoln Road Upgrade, currently this road has two lanes each way with no cycling and poor walking provisions. The planned upgrade leaves the same number of general traffic lanes but adds a buslane each way along with new cycle lanes, and footpaths with improved safety along the route.

Similar targets are:

  • Te Atatu Road upgrade, which is being done to improve buses, walking and cycling along Te Atatu Road.
  • Local road Upgrades for the East West Connections Project, which is essentially bus improvements.
  • Long Bay Southern Corridor, which provides benefits for all users.
  • Dominion Road Upgrade

Growing Auckland:

The other obvious assumption in the ETB is that Auckland is only going to grow upwards and not outwards with their scrapping of the Mill Road upgrade.

Although this area is expected to have an additional:

  • 22,000 homes
  • 6,000 jobs
  • 80,000 more people
The ETB assumes these people will be more than happy to take the bus along a narrow and congested two-lane road to the nearest train station regardless of where they want to go.

Effects of the Essential Transport Budget:

The aim of the ETB is clear in that they want to improve public transport along with walking and cycling. Unfortunately they have fallen for the all to common mistake of assuming anything with the word "road" in the title is bad and therefore must be stopped.

To this extent the ETB will roll out a suite of new train station and bus interchanges however, these buses will be stuck driving along congested local roads as they have removed all of the projects that were going to upgrade these roads to provide the fast and frequent bus services. The end result of the ETB is that we get to spend more money but have a slower and more congested transport network for everyone.


I always enjoy reading the funding cases from anyone who is anti-road as they are always campaigning to stop road projects yet they insist that the people who are on the road should pay for their pet project.

We pretty much have the same situation here where they are pretty content with fuel tax but in a rare case of generosity they have actually supported increasing rates. Normally rates are completely off the cards as this means they will need to pay some money but they seem happy in this case as they have reduced the amount they would need to be to $15.73 per annum.

Fuel Levy:

We are told the fuel levy "affects everyone relatively fairly", well I guess this would be the case if we all drove relatively similar vehicles, relatively the same distance at relatively the same number of times a year. However in reality the person it effects the most is the person who needs to travel for work who doesn't have a company car. With a 7c/l tax that somewhat average person pays about $140 a year on tax towards the new transport network, however another equally average person who takes the train (that the guy driving paid for) to work pays nothing what so ever. And so this levy is in no way shape or form fair unless the person paying the $140 in tax is getting some sort of a benefit out of this additional money they are paying, which in the case of the ETB they get less than what they would get in the Basic Transport Network package.

A case of pay more and get less for road users.

Motorway Toll:

Strangely the motorway toll doesn't get the biggest round of applause because there is some concern that some parts of the city have poor PT provision. We are told places like Te Atatu and Messey, the ones who are getting brand new bus lanes built as we speak, have no choice but to take the motorway despite their express bus services. It is only once these places have greatly improved PT that we can toll them.

Without having to read too hard between the lines it's rather clear that a few of the contributors to the ETB live in these places and are probably not to impressed with their current PT service which is required to mix with motorway traffic due to the upgrades that are being built for them. It will be for this simple reason that they currently drive along here that they don't want a motorway toll, as it does add up to a bit at the end the year.

Similar to the fuel levy, if you make 2 trips a day you are looking at spending about $450 a year on motorway tolls, which once the motorway upgrade is finished in 2017 will reduce to nothing as you can start taking the bus again.

The interesting part for these folk is that the ETB does nothing for them. Once the motorway upgrade is complete buses will be able to drive along the motorway should free of congestion, however the ETB has cancelled the local road upgrades and so once they get off the motorway they will be stuck in congestion rather then using the nice bus lanes they were going to get in the Basic Transport Network.

Government Cash:

By far the most preferred source of funding for any project is from the central government. The general call is that PT projects should be funded in the same way as motorways are, from a big pot of money the government has.

The issue here is that the big pot of money gets its money from fuel tax and various other charges paid my motorists. So if you say you want PT to be funded in the same way motorways are then you are really saying you want to remove all subsidies from PT and have it entirely run as a users pays system.

Of course this isn't what they want, but rather they want road users to pay for PT. Currently about 57c in the litre gets paid towards the land transport fund and so for the average driver that's about $800 a year. The preference from the anti-road campaigner is that this $800 should be directed towards the train user and the road user should be rewarded with more congestion for their efforts.


In the end of the day, the Essential Transport Budget is trying to push the Congestion Free Network into the 10 year plan. Although it's all well and good to campaign for better public transport, in this case it seems they have picked a battle that isn't really needed.

In it's goal of being cheaper the ETB has shot itself in the foot and removed many of the essential roading projects that are needed to support the public transport network along with many of the walking and cycling upgrades. Roading projects have never been just about cars, and even motorway projects these days are doing more for walking and cycling than many most other projects.

The way I see it, if you want one or more of the following:
  • Better Public Transport
  • Better Walking Provisions
  • Better Cycling Provisions
  • Greater Choice
  • Great Flexibility
  • Reduced Congestion
Then the only option you need to chose is the Advanced Transport Programme.

Saturday, 28 February 2015

Congestion Free Network - Part 3

This is part three of a series on the Congestion Free Network (CFN). 

For those not familiar with the plan, I go into some detail here about its origins however it is essentially of copy of Auckland Transport's (AT) "Regional Land Transport Plan" although it upgrades everything to fully grade separated busways or railways.

Given the CFN is broken down into '5 Year Plan' segments I have been looking at each one in turn. In my previous post I looked at the network as proposed by the year 2020 and found that the initial portion of the works would likely cost in the range of $7-8 billion, this is despite the plan having had only allocated some $1.3 billion for these works. I also excluded the Central Rail Link (CRL) and the additional rolling stock from the previous estimate and so we should really round off the total cost for the first 5 year CFN plan at $11 billion.

In today's post I am going to look at the works for the 2020 to 2025 plan and see how far over budget we get given the we spent all of the CFN's budget in the first 5 year plan..

CFN - 2025

CFN 2020 to 2025 Projects:

The 2020 to 2025 plan for the CFN appears to be mainly extensions to existing section of the Rapid Transit Network (RTN) rather than creating new lines and therefore we can expect this phase to be cheaper then the $11 billion spent in the fist 5 year plan.

To set the context, the CFN is a network of grade separated high speed and high frequency public transport (PT) routes similar to the northern busway or Vancouver's SkyTrain.

Vancouver Sky Train - 2015

During the previous 5 year plan the busway was extended 4km from Constellation Station up to the Albany Station to remove the segment where buses are required to drive on a congested section of the motorway network, during this 5 year plan the busway is further extended 12km north from Albany through to Silverdale. Given this section of motorway only has an AADT of 40,000 it does seem somewhat excessive do build a grade separated busway however I can only assume that the authors of the CFN are expecting large amounts of traffic growth on this route, potentially due to the Puhoi to Wellsford motorway extension. 

Another busway extension is planned to go from Westgate 7km along SH16 to Kumeu. This is another peculiar extension as currently the two-lane two-way SH16 only gets 20k vpd here, it also sits on the existing rail line and could easily be served by extending the existing rail service slightly further. Personally I can see there being some merit in extending a high quality bus serves out here as part of extending the motorway, however I would only do this once we get some more urban sprawl, something which the authors of this work are dead set against and so their justification for this route is unknown 

We get two more busway extensions as part of the plan, a 6km extension to Howick and another 6km extension to the airport. We also get the Onehunga Rail Line extended 9km to the airport. All 3 of these make perfect sense and would be quite useful if there were here today for us to use, in particular the busway to Howick which is one of the most deprived parts of the city when it comes to PT.

The plan also adds a ferry to Northcote, Birkenhead, Beachhaven and Hobsonville. I'm not too sure how they plan it implement a fast and frequent ferry service as ferries are generally slow and their high capacity inherently means low frequency. Ferries are also pretty poor when it comes to CO2 commissions being about the same as a car on a per km rate, they usually offset this by taking much shorter routes however the route shown is no shorter than travelling by road

CFN 2020 to 2025 Costing:

The CFN website has the following costings for these projects:

  1. Northern Busway Extension = $300 million (12km)
  2. Western Busway Extenstion = $150 million (7km)
  3. Howick Busway Extention = $150 million (6km)
  4. Airport Busway = $235 million (6km)
  5. Airport Rail = $700 million (9km)
  6. High Speed High Frequency Ferries = $30 million

From that last time I looked as this we had a unit rate for busways of $35 million per km, we also had a property cost of $20 million per km in urban areas.

So using those rates and taking account that some of the busways are out in the country side we get the following values.

  1. Northern Busway Extension = $420 million (12km)
  2. Western Busway Extenstion = $245 million (7km)
  3. Howick Busway Extention = $330 million (6km)
  4. Airport Busway = $330 million (6km)

Looking at the rail option, $50 million per km is about what I would expect however due to the reduced geometric flexibility the property costs are likely to go up. On a pure per km rate we are looking at $720 million however the tricky part here is the crossing over the Mangere Inlet. The current plan is to have a bridge weaving its way across the inlet between the existing two bridges, however I suspect such visual destruction is not likely to be approved, unless it follows the same grade as the existing motorway bridge, and so we are more likely to see a tunnel here if this route is to be approved. Once you take this into account the cost of the route is more likely to at least $1 billion.

Mangere Inlet - 2015
So if we put the various parts together, the total cost for the CFN 5 year plan from 2020 to 2025 comes out at $2.3 billion, comparing this to the CFN budget of $1.5 billion we have managed to come in much closer to budget than we did in the first 5 year plan.

The total cost to date for the CFN is now at $13.3 billion running at 136% of the total CNF budget of $9.8 billion.

Similar to last time, I have updated the 2025 CFN plan to show what we could build if we limited are funds to what the CFN has allocated.

Costed 2025 CFN - 2015

The next post will cover the years 2025 to 2030. 

Friday, 20 February 2015

The Anti-Road Campaigner

Yesterday there was a rather large announcement for people who are passionate about transport, sustainability and urban design. In what will likely become a rather influential president a group of apparent 'pro-public transport' and 'pro-active transport' activists successfully campaigned the Auckland Council not to improve the walking and cycling facilities on Great North Road and not to improve the public transport on Great North Road. The announcement I refer to is the saving of 6 Pohutukawa trees that were going to result in a number of significant benefits for all transport users, primarily being PT users and cyclists.

Now you may think this is strange, why would people who are pro-PT and active transport campaign against what they are in support of? Well it all comes down to why people become campaigners in the first place, and it also comes down to those who are most vocal being happy to lie and misrepresent the facts to get others on board.

So to start with, when it comes to people who are pro-PT or pro-active transport there are two types; there are those who simply want to promote these modes whilst letting other people go about there own business, and there are those who who simply hate other people using cars and want to prevent anything that makes driving easier for other people.

Hatred of Cars:

What it is that makes certain people hate other people using cars so much generally comes from a high degree of self interest, they don't like the fact that roads get congested and they don't like the fact that increasing the capacity of roads generally results in them using up more space. These same people may very well use cars themselves, however this they will claim is because they have no option because the PT system is so poor. In their world they may very well only ever travel from inner suburbs to the CRD where PT is ideal however the fact that other people have lives of their own and are making different trips is of no relevance, these other people are simply getting in their way are nothing but an inconvenience unless they are adding to the ambiance of the area.

For example, the following image shows a busy street with many people eating away at a cafe. In the average anti-car campaigners world the entire city should be full of streets like this, how these people get there, where they live, or what they do for a living doesn't is irrelevant, their only purpose in life should be to add to the ambiance 24/7. In a way its like these campaigners live in a theater where they are in the audience and they don't want to ever see or know the inner workings going on behind stage. 
Busy Street

Save the Trees:

Although the project in question has been in the public arena since 2013 there hasn't really been all that much concern over the loss of these trees until recently, the main objection to the project was that money was being spent to improve vehicle travel. This is actually evident in the numerous submissions that were made to save the trees, when reading the submissions that were in objection the general message in most of these was

"save the trees because I don't like you improving the intersection for cars"

Quite possibly the most important thing to get out of the way first is that most of these campaigners aren't actually all that fussed about chopping down a tree or two. In fact some of these folk have campaigned for years to have trees chopped down so they can get what they want. One good example of this is the Grafton Cycleway that required the removal of hundreds of trees and the only criticism was that it should have been done sooner. They will be equally keen to chop down any trees that get in the way of the Skypath.

The Lost Trees
Being a bit of a keen cyclist myself I've taken a few rides along this path however I have somewhat mixed feelings about it. The grade of the path makes it both a bit of a challenge for the average Joe and coming down the path is potentially quite dangerous as you can get up to some insane speeds and when you come into the corners that have the camber sloping the wrong way is an accident waiting to happen. Additionally the path doesn't give you access to anything, apart from a few mid-block access points its most suited for people going from the top of the CBD to the bottom and nowhere in between.

There other thing I have noticed about this path is that it hardly gets used, most times I've taken this path I haven't seen anyone else on it although one day I did see 5 pedestrians.

How Old is a Tree:

A good example of how disingenuous the "save the trees campaign" was is the quoting of the age of the trees. Throughout the campaign these trees were referred to as 6 giant and magnificent trees that were over 80 years old and in some cases almost 100 years old, yet in reality they were more in the range of 65 years of age.

You can see in the following image taken in 1940 that the trees didn't exist, yet they are claimed to be 6 years old at this stage.

Tree Location - 1940
The following image is taken in 1965 where we can now see in the red circle the trees which they look to be around the size of 15 year old Pohutukawa, this would mean they were planted around 1950 making them about 65 years of age. In the blue you can see some other trees that were not overly apparent in 1940 however given there size are obviously older.
Tree Location - 1965

Livable City:

One of the big slogans being used during the campaign was the "most livable city" which is what the current Mayor is championing.

To start the campaign they decided to claim there were 19 lanes in the area. Technically there were 19 lanes however this is because the count was based on 4 different roads. You could very well say there are 50 lanes here if you include a few more roads.

In reality Great North Road has 1 general traffic lane and one bus lane each way and so that's a total of 4. Add in the fact that we are at an intersection were you get additional turn lanes and we are up to 7.

The other thing the campaign implied was that the 6 trees would be removed and replaced with nothing but road pavement, when in reality 9 semi mature trees would to be put in their place along with some new and improved landscaping. All up there would be 3 more trees after the works than there were before.

Proposed Landscape Plan - 2015

The general sentiment was that removing these trees would result in such extensive environmental damage that it would take generations to grow back. Given the trees were planted around 1950 and looked pretty snappy in the 90's, that would imply that if 9 semi mature trees were planted here it would take about a decade to get to where we are rather than some 80 years as implied.

The hypocrisy of this all is that trees get chopped down all over the show for a number of reasons, many of which are for improved pedestrian and cycling facilities.

Of course this in situation it is a bit of a special case as 230m down the road there is a long line of trees of the same species and so people like to imply these trees are part of that line.

Great North Road - 2015
This is similar to other tree lined streets within the city.

Howe St - 2015
The difference with these 6 particular trees however is that they are not part of a greater picture but rather a small disconnected patch of trees.

When is a Cycle Lane a Cycle Lane:

One of the most amusing aspects of the "save the trees" campaign was the unanimous opinion that shared paths are no good for cyclists, with the TransportBlog stating "in my book shared paths don't count".

To a similar extent Cycle Action Auckland doesn't like shared paths either as they put cyclists in conflict with pedestrians. What's ironic in this case is that it was only the previous day they had celebrated the opening of another section of shared path just up the road.

One of the criticisms was that the path was "only" 3m in width, that's 3m plus an extra 0.5m clearance either side but they chose to ignore that for their case. So in effect, this 4m (including buffer area) wide path was hopelessly inadequate, this is despite the path they were celebrating the previous day was 3.0m with no clearances. If they really were of the opinion that 4m is not enough space then they would be up in arms about the 4m width of the SkyPath, however we see here they think the 4m width of the skypath is fantastic and safe for all users regardless of the 5% grade.

The other criticism they had was that the path only extended for the extent of works and didn't connect into the existing network. This is again another rather funny one, if you look at a map of the area you will see that there isn't an existing network of any shape or form and so that makes it rather hard to tie into it. To a similar extent a project can only work within its extent of works and hence the name. A complaint of this nature is rather short sighted, it suggests that nothing should be done in stages and that they would rather get nothing than get it delivered to them one section at a time.

As it turns out they have got what they wanted, they said they didn't want a shared path and the council has listened to them and it no longer features as part of the works.

Stop Planning for the Future:

The other great argument they had was that the traffic model was predicting congestion in 2026, given the road is congested today it's pretty obvious that it's going to be congested in the future but the campaigners didn't seem to think this was an issue and that there was a good chance that if we do nothing that the congestion we experience today will simply vanish.

The following image is Great North Road on a typical Saturday when nothing special is going on, this is hardly a busy time of the day but as you can see there is a large queue of cars trying to turn left onto St Lukes Road and another large queue of cars trying to turn right onto the SH16 eastbound on-ramp.

Great North Road - 2015
Another funny thing to be seen was from the TransportBlog when the posted the following image.
TransportBlog - 2015
I can only image they weren't wearing their glasses when viewing this image as the only difference they could make out was that there were "slightly fewer vehicles on the eastbound off-ramp". I don't know how they failed to notice the queue on Great North Road gets extended over 700m to the Grey Lynn town centre and and off the map.

Buses are Too Fast:

The biggest losers in this situation are the bus users travelling along Great North Road. In the preferred scheme buses travelling both eastbound and westbound had a relatively uninterrupted run however the campaigners seemed to not like improvements being made to the bus network and for now they have go their way.

It was only last week that the people campaigning against bus improvements at this intersection were celebrating a new bus lane being installed. It seems the issue here is these people simply don't understand how the dynamics of traffic work and therefore don't understand how small changes can make a big difference.

In the case of the preferred option two things were being done for buses. The first thing was that by adding the additional left turn lane the congestion on Great South Road will be greatly reduced and therefore bus movements freed up.

As shown in the congestion map above the queue of vehicles on a typical weekend PM peak can be expected to extend back all the way to Grey Lynn town centre and therefore before the existing Great North Road bus lanes start.

Grey Lynn Town Centre - 2015
So first up the buses will get stuck here, once in the bus lane they will be able to pass much of the stationary traffic up to about Tuarangi Road where the bus will again get stuck in congestion. The bus will then slowly make its way through the intersection of both Stadium and St Lukes Road before it is able to get back into a bus lane.

In addition to longer trips brought on by added congestion buses will also end up getting stuck behind other buses that are dropping off passengers as there will be no space to pass.

The 2nd benefit the buses get comes from the short 100m bypass lane. Although 100m doesn't sound like much, when it comes to peak time traffic this is the difference between waiting for the same set of signals once rather than twice.

Of course it seem the apparent "pro PT" supporters were not at all impressed with improving PT in the area, despite this being part of their Congestion Free Network (CFN).

CFN - 2020

This makes you wonder how they plan to build this section of the CFN. According to their pricing it will cost zero dollars to build a grade separated busway from Te Atatu all the way to Britomart which they show going going through this area. If 6 trees is too high of a cost to improve PT in this area I don't know how they plan to build a grade separated busway through this area, even if they increase their $0 budget.

I am No.6

Throughout most of the campaign there was a claim there there was "an alternative option that provided all the same benefits but saved the trees", this option was referred to as 'Option 6'.

If there was such an option it would have been good to see, however if this 'Option 6'  was an option that removed the 3rd eastbound lane on Great North Road then it wouldn't have provided all the same benefits.

One of the benefits of the preferred option was that it was safe for all users and that it provided for eastbound buses. If you were to simply remove the 3rd eastbound lane and then move all the other lanes over you would create 2 issues.

  1. Westbound vehicles would be directed into the eastbound right turn lane resulting in head-on collisions.
  2. The traffic waiting to turn onto the SH16 eastbound on-ramp would block the eastbound buses.

TransportBlog - 2015

Winners and Losers:

So now that the trees have been saved, and we are no longer going to see as many improvements to the pedestrian, cycling and PT in the area who won in the end of the day?

Well in 1st place comes the trees who get to stay, apart from some long overdue trimming.

In 2nd place comes the automobile user. Although Great North Road is going to be more congested than it is today, this added congestion is a result of the benefits these users will be getting from using the SH20 tunnel, and so although their trip may take an extra 7mins or so in comparison to the 2-lane option they are still getting to where the want to go faster than they are today.

In 3rd place comes the humble pedestrian, although not great in numbers for most of the day they do come out in swarms from time to time when there is an event. They will get to enjoy some new and improved crossing facilities at the intersection which should reduce their wait time, although the existing slip left turn which is a bit of a safety hazard will be retained as chosen by the campaigners. Sadly they will have to live with the existing footpath width that reduces to 2m in width rather than the 4m (including clearances) path that was proposed.

Unfortunately for cyclists they have been hit rather hard by the campaigners, they were going to be given a nice and wide shared use path which could have been easily extended to Ivanhoe Road however the anti-road campaigners have put an end to this. The poor cyclist will now need to remain on the carriageway with the general traffic until they can get to the shared paths that have survived.

In last place comes Public Transport users, due to the overwhelming hatred of cars that many of the campaigners have they have managed to make life worse for those who take the bus in the westbound direction along Great North Road.

Moral of the Story

This is a classic case of people being unable to see the wood for the trees. So much focus was put on there being an additional general purpose left turn lane that the majority of people were unable to see that the biggest winners in the 2 left turn lane option were the bus users. The 2nd left turn lane effectively got the cars out of the way and by extending the bus lane just 100m was enough for it to be able to bypass this reduced queue.

What is probably most disheartening about this is that the main campaigners actually knew the benefits of the project yet chose to ignore these and set out on a campaign of spreading misinformation. This is quite possibly the best example of an anti-road advocate you can get.

Sadly the call has been made to slow down buses, increase congestion and provide no improvements to cycling and pedestrians and it has all been driven by the people who claim they want to improve PT, cycling and pedestrian transport.

The Community

All up there were only some 3,000 people who in favor of saving the trees despite there being extensive coverage in the media, yet the campaigners claim the entire community and indeed all of Auckland was in favor of saving the them. Even when it comes to these 3,000 people however, the majority of them were being sold lies on the project by a small group of anti-road campaigners, not being told of the benefits, the actual age of the trees and what was going to be put back as mitigation.

It is hardly a democratic process when 0.03% wins out over the other 99.97% of the city, or the tens of thousands who will be inconvenienced daily due to this result.